Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Unsung Luxuries

Rain outside, laundry inside. I'll be spending the day overseeing the separation of dirt from clothing. At least it's the kind of blustery day that makes indoor chores easier. It brings to mind the laundromat days, before I lived in a house with a washer and dryer, when this would have involved loading the vast pile up, hauling it somewhere to wash and dry, and bringing it all back without incident. Add weather like today (or worse) and spending significant time in a place with the ambiance of, well, a laundromat (screaming and/or bratty kids, an inaccessible television stuck on the worst possible programming, the feeling of being in an unofficial homeless shelter) and unpleasantness is practically guaranteed (an exception being a combination bar/laundromat in Rapid City which had other hazards of the type that can result from combining alcohol and anything requiring dexterity, such as folding clothes). My first wife and I once chose an otherwise unremarkable place to rent because it had a washer and dryer on site.

This reminds me of the many conveniences of life that have come a long way. A washer and dryer in the home isn't considered a big deal, but growing up I recall many people relying on washers with manual wringers and clotheslines for drying. We didn't get a dishwasher until I was in high school; this was a really big deal for a family with 4 boys. My brother still uses that same unit for his similarly-sized family 30 years later (talk about not making them like they used to). If mine breaks I'll put off buying groceries to get it fixed.

Electronics? I remember when the word was exotic. My Mom recalls the arrival of television here, and I remember our first color TV. When my daughter gets her own place we'll probably get her a microwave oven; how different my college days would have been if I'd had one. Sitting in front of this computer reminds me of my time at ComputerLand (Does that still exist? Googling....no, at least not as it did then.) in Rapid City when we would occasionally go to some one's home to pick up a computer for repair. I say "we" because it took two people to safely carry each of the two pieces; the hard drive was a separate unit.

At a more basic level,the improvements in timekeeping have been impressive, at least from the point of view of someone who, well into adulthood, owned a watch that required winding. Reliable, accurate clocks and watches are readily available and inexpensive. Even the ancient incandescent light bulb, now facing it's eventual demise (although the compact fluorescent bulb needs improvement before I'll consider phasing out the old ones completely), is more efficient and longer-lasting.

We tend to think of cars as having matured as a technology a long time ago, but a quick reaquaintance with even an early 1980's model shows how much they have improved. Learning to change a tire was once a standard rite because they could go flat for a number of reasons. Now they hold up to hazards that would have wiped them out not long ago, and have a lifespan that would amaze my grandfather. 60,000 miles? Cars were once considered on the downhill slide at that point; now they're just getting broken in.

There's lots of talk about people cutting back now, but it won't involve anything close to going back to the way life was not that long ago. We've come too far, and that's good; ask anyone who had to manually wring out wet clothes.

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